Tips for living with and training your new puppy

Bringing home a new puppy is a very exciting experience.  It can also be a very stressful one if you are not properly prepared.  Many of the tips below can also be very useful when bringing home a newly adopted adult dog from a rescue or shelter as well.

Preparing for your new puppy

The best time to prepare for a puppy’s homecoming is before the puppy actually comes home.  Be sure you have purchased all of the necessary puppy-proofing and training products that will make your first few weeks and months with your puppy much more enjoyable.

Here is a list to get you started:

  • A crate:  big enough for your puppy to stand up, lie down comfortably, and turn around in a circle, but not big enough for him to walk around.
  • A puppy playpen:  If you expect to work during the day, you will need a place for your puppy to be safely contained since he will not be able to “hold it” long enough to make it through your work day until he is older.
  • Potty pads:  If you are going to use a Puppy Playpen, you may want to place a potty pad in one corner of his pen to separate playing, sleeping, and potty areas of the pen while you are away. There are also turf or real grass options that some people like as an alternative to pads. You only need pads or turf if you are going to be away longer than the amount of time your puppy can be expected to hold it (their age in months plus one hour; so, a two month old puppy would be three hours max.)
  • Kongs or other “stuffable”/interactive toys:  Purchase several of these toys along with a few different options for stuffing them such as peanut butter, dog biscuits, yogurt, high quality wet dog food, honey, or sweet potato.  These toys will help him learn to enjoy his alone time.  They will also serve to teach him what is appropriate to chew if you allow him to only access these appropriate chews while keeping shoes, rugs, laundry and other illegal chewing objects out of his reach until he can be trusted.  Rotate the toys and their stuffing every few days to keep your puppy interested.
  • Other toys:  ropes, squeak toys, stuffed animals, balls, tug-a-jug, etc. that your puppy can play with when he is being supervised.  Again, rotate the toys every few days to keep your puppy interested.
  • Baby gate:  This will be used to contain your puppy to one room to help you better supervise him.
  • Training treats:  small, soft, stinky treats that can easily be given to your puppy to reward him for good behavior.
  • Leash & collar:  a properly fitted standard collar and a 4-6’ leash.  You may also want to purchase a front-clipping harness, such as a Freedom Harness or Balance Harness for leash walking and a 15’ or longer leash for training the “come” cue outside.  You should never use a choke chain or other aversive on a puppy (or any dog)
  • Healthy food for your puppy: Feeding your puppy a healthy diet can help set the stage for many things, including better behavior. The Whole Dog Journal is a great publication that provides great information about nutrition, including how to select a good dog food for your dog and an annual list of “approved dry dog foods” each year to help pet parents make informed decisions.

Puppy potty training tips

In short, potty training can be handled by being sure your puppy is always contained to the same room you are.  Your puppy should always be in your sight!  If you need to take a shower, watch a movie, or have an important conversation with a friend, you should put your puppy in her crate with a stuffed Kong (or in her puppy pen if you are going to be gone longer than she can be left alone without relieving herself).  You will be able to enjoy your break time, and she will begin to learn to enjoy her crate and her alone time.

Your puppy will need to go potty every time she eats, drinks, sleeps, or plays.  You should also take her outside approximately every 15-30 minutes (this will become gradually longer as she gets older and more reliable). It helps to set a kitchen timer, or a timer on your phone, to help you remember when it’s time to take her out next. The more methodical you can be with potty training, the faster your puppy will learn.

If she goes potty outside when taken, praise her lavishly and feed her a treat.  If she does not, bring her back inside but know she will soon need to potty.

If she looks like she’s going to potty in the wrong place, interrupt her gently, before she goes, and quickly take her to the right place.  The most important part of potty training is catching your puppy while they’re looking for a place to go, since the lesson can only be taught while the behavior is happening.  If your puppy goes potty inside the house, and you do not see her go, you can only clean up the mess and move on, vowing to keep a closer watch on her next time.

Puppy socialization tips

The most important job you have as a new puppy owner is socializing your puppy.  The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) offers this handout with socializing guidelines and suggestions.  The AVSAB also offers more information on their position statement on early socialization. Socialization means exposing your puppy to as many new people, places, things, and experiences as possible, and it is important for this to happen as early as possible in your puppy’s life.

If you got your puppy from a reputable breeder, this process should already have been started.  Also, many rescue groups hold regular adoption events where puppies get a great start on this socialization work.  Proper socialization helps your puppy grow up to be a friendly, happy, confident dog, thus preventing fear and aggression as an adult.

Get as creative as possible with your socialization, and set lofty goals.  Invite friends to your home and bring your puppy to theirs.  Do so in small and large groups, and try to think as broadly as possible about your socializing options.  A good rule of thumb is that your puppy should have 100 new experiences in her first 100 days of life.  If you bring her home at the standard age of 8 weeks, this means you have your work cut out for you.  When a dog grows up with limited exposure to people, dogs, places, or things, she is likely to feel insecure or frightened at later stages in life, so do your best to make these various exposures frequent and positive.  It is your goal to teach your puppy that these new things are fun and just part of life.

Tips to stop puppy nipping and biting

Puppy nipping is common and normal.  However, you will need to teach your new puppy that in order to play with humans, she must keep her teeth to herself.  It is often frustrating since it is painful and can be challenging to put an end to.

The best way to help your puppy not to nip or bite is to very carefully manage her environment so that her opportunities for nipping are very minimal. Begin by having a rule that no one in your home plays with or interacts with the puppy without having at least one toy in their hands (and a few backup toys very close by). Having a toy box or basket in each room will make it easy for family members to grab a toy as-needed, before approaching the puppy.

During times when the puppy is particularly worked up (often in the morning and evening, when we’re getting ready for work and then when we want to relax at night), make sure the puppy has an outlet for all that energy that doesn’t include temptation to nip, such as play with interactive toys inside a puppy playpen, free time to run circles in the yard or an enclosed room of the house (supervised, but without you being the center of the game), or play with you that involves switching toys very frequently to keep her interest on the toy and not your hand).

If your puppy does bite you, despite your best efforts to give her other alternatives, move the body part that’s being bitten away from her. This may involve leaving the room completely, or working with her on a leash so that you can put hook her leash to something and get a few feet away if necessary. When you move away from her briefly, don’t say or do anything except move away. After a few seconds, you can resume play.

Be sure to set her up for success by having toys in your hands and a good setup where she isn’t tempted to bite. If you continue to return to her, and she continues to bite, change the picture. Try giving her something else to do that doesn’t involve you (such as a frozen Kong with yummy food inside or another interactive toy or bone), change clothes if she is biting a particular item of clothing, tie your hair back if she’s trying to bite your hair – set you and your puppy up for successful interactions.

Remember, it is important for her to learn appropriate forms of play, so you should never force her by holding her mouth shut or frighten her by yelling at her. Avoid pointing fingers toward the puppy, yelling “no”, holding her down, etc. as these things can be very scary for puppies and may trigger her to react by barking or lunging back at you.

Other useful exercises for teaching your puppy not to bite

Another great way to help your puppy learn how you prefer she play with you is to use clicker training to “mark” behaviors you like and reinforce them. Karen Pryor has a great article on how to play a game called “I’m OK with that” using clicker training with your puppy. In this game, you begin by offering a closed fist to your puppy. If your puppy is gentle in her interaction with your fist (touching it with her nose, or some other gentle, non-bitey behavior), you click and treat. As she gets the hang of it, you continue to offer your hand in more tempting ways, clicking and treating for behaviors you are okay with.

Recommended reading

How to survive puppy teething and nipping

Contact us

For help getting started with puppy socialization in San Diego or to discuss building your relationship with your puppy through positive reinforcement training, email Erin for help.

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